As I mentioned in my last post, I'm working on a novel in Hugh Howey's Woolverse. Howey's fans have been exploring all sorts of interesting topics in their titles, and I hope that my little novel will make a strong addition to the growing fold. The working title for the book is Greatfall. If you haven't read Wool yet, I strongly recommend you read it first. There's little I can tell you about my novel that won't spoil something in Howey's carefully-crafted universe.
But just in case you can't wait... here's a sneak peek at Greatfall. The excerpt begins below the cover! (Rather lovely cover, isn't it?)
The First Greatfall
She was a good girl.
Her name was Belinda Gold, and she was the seventeenth seeker. She began to ascend the Path on her thirteenth birthday, as did the children who went before her. She was prepared. She had practiced the mantra for months, and knew it by heart. She sang it out proudly as she stepped on the first of many stairs, and her voice rang out through the silo as she climbed.
Belinda arrived at the top of the silo faster than any seeker ever had. She stepped from the last stair onto the first floor with a radiant smile, and warmly embraced her mother and father, who waited for her there.
Like all seekers who preceded her, Belinda was escorted before the court on the arm of her father. She was proud, bursting with happiness.
It might have been her wedding day.
The Book records Belinda's appearance before the court in clinical, almost sobering terms.
The seeker, Miss Belinda Amanda Gold, was greeted by the court at 4:14 a.m. Her ascent lasted 46 hours, 14 minutes. The court acknowledges this as a speed record, and congratulates Miss Gold on her rate of ascent.
At 4:19 a.m., the Wise Father appeared and welcomed Miss Gold to the court.
Miss Gold responded courteously.
At 4:21 a.m., the Wise Father asked Miss Gold the customary question.
"What do you seek?" the Wise Father asked.
Belinda had rehearsed the answer in her head during her climb -- not an easy task while continually chanting the mantra -- and she straightened her shoulders before she spoke.
"I seek an honorable assignment, Father," she said. "One by which I may contribute to the happiness and success of the silo."
The Wise Father nodded at Belinda's answer, his face calm and without expression. He glanced at the court announcer, who stood and recited, "All will rise as the Wise Father consults with the One True."
The court, populated with Belinda's family and friends, a small knot of spectators from the highest floors of the silo, and attended by the Wise Father's personal staff, rose as one. The Wise Father stood and turned, long white robes rippling. He stepped down from the bench, and a heavy bronze-cast door was opened.
The Wise Father entered, and an attendant closed the door with a sonorous thud.
At 4:24 a.m., the Wise Father retired to seek the One True's counsel.
• • •
For every seeker who appeared before the Wise Father, there were two possible outcomes.
If the Wise Father emerged from his consultation with the One True and declared the seeker worthy, then the seeker would be assigned an apprenticeship in the silo, and would begin the great journey into adulthood.
If a seeker was deemed unworthy, they would be dispatched to work the mines below the silo for a period of one year. On their fourteenth birthday, they would be permitted to climb the Path again, having learned from their temporary banishment.
No seekers had yet been declared unworthy.
Of the sixteen who preceded Belinda, six now shadowed adults in the mechanical sector, three worked in supply, four worked in agriculture. One worked as an attendant in the Wise Father's court, one trained as a messenger, and one was learning how to bring babies into the world.
Belinda quietly hoped that she would be assigned to the nursery as well. She dreamed of welcoming new lives into the silo. She would be the first face those damp new eyes would see, even before their mothers. She would gently ease them into this world, and lovingly hand them to their parents.
The Wise Father remained in the prayer closet for some time. None of the attendees in the court that day knew how long was ordinary, so none of them seemed to worry. But the Wise Father had never been in the closet for longer than a few minutes, and nearly twenty minutes had passed.
When he finally emerged, he seemed uncomfortable. He climbed the steps to the bench shakily, patting his brow with a square white cloth. The eyes of the court were upon the slip of paper in his left hand.
On that paper would be printed Belinda's assignment.
The Wise Father returned to the bench at 4:48 a.m.
The court director asked the audience to remain standing for the reading of the judgment.
The Wise Father asked Miss Gold to approach the bench.
Miss Gold complied.
The Wise Father sat quietly for a long moment.
Traditionally, the judgment would be read, and the seeker's assignment would be announced shortly after.
But on that day, the Wise Father broke tradition.
"Miss Gold," the old man said, "do you believe in the One True?"
Belinda blinked, and looked over her shoulder at her family. Her mother smiled encouragingly, but her father seemed to realize something was amiss. His brow furrowed, and he tilted his head inquisitively.
"Miss Gold," the Wise Father repeated.
Belinda turned back to the Wise Father, sitting high above her, and said, "I believe in the One True, Father."
The Wise Father had expected this answer, and nodded shortly. He took a deep breath and said, "And you believe in the One True's plan? His immaculate plan for each believer?"
A murmur spread through the court then, as if the audience had suddenly realized that the script had been abandoned.
The court director stomped one foot and called for silence.
"Yes, Father, I do," Belinda answered, somewhat nervously.
The old man nodded again. He bowed his head, as if gathering his strength, then stood to his feet. He gazed out upon the court, the upturned and curious faces, then turned his attention to the court director.
"Come," the Wise Father said.
The director approached the bench and leaned in close. The old man whispered into the director's ear, and the director flinched. He stepped away, clearly alarmed. The Wise Father beckoned him close again, and whispered something more.
The director closed his eyes and nodded his assent.
The court watched, thoroughly confused.
The director stepped down from the platform and approached the short line of guards who held the eastern wall of the courtroom. He talked in a low voice to them, while the audience strained to hear.
"What's going on?" Belinda's mother whispered to her husband.
The director returned to his post, and two of the guards separated from the line and approached Belinda. Their blue uniforms were lined with gold, and at their sides they carried electric batons. They stood at Belinda's left and right, their backs to the Wise Father, facing the audience. Their expressions were inscrutable to the crowd, and their heels snapped as they came to attention.
The murmurs in the crowd grew louder.
The Wise Father stood to his feet and held a hand up for silence.
"My children," he said, addressing the court at large. "Today is an unusual day, but a special and important one. We are the followers of the One True, who asks little from us. He asks that we are kind to one another. That we trust him to hold evil at bay. He asks us to prepare our children to care for our silo, for his creation. It is this final requirement that leads our children to walk the Path. They walk the Path and become adults. The Path brings to full flame the warm glow in their hearts, so that they may carry the light for the children who follow them. For their own children."
Belinda's father shifted uncomfortably.
Such an address by the Wise Father was unexpected. He was a mostly quiet man, and spoke to the believers just once every season, to encourage and enlighten them, and to share words written by the One True.
"Today the One True asks more of us than ever before. Today, though it will be difficult, the One True asks for us to trust him. We have given him our safety, our lives, our human desire for control. In return, the One True protects us from the untoward forces -- forces within and without -- which would otherwise tear our silo, our home, apart."
The Wise Father pressed his hands to his face, and steeled himself for what must be said. He could not remember a day so lovely, and so utterly painful in its beauty. Would his children understand? Would their belief be strengthened this day, or shattered?
As the crowd stared up at him, the Wise Father lowered his hands and clasped them together.
"Today, children," he said, "the One True asks for our child."
• • •
At 4:58 a.m., the Wise Father delivered the verdict to the court.
The seeker, Miss Belinda Amanda Gold, was sentenced to Greatfall.
The court stirred. This was not worthy or unworthy. What was this?
"What is Greatfall?" Belinda's father shouted.
The Wise Father said, "You may proceed."
The guards grasped Belinda's arms tightly and began to march up the aisle.
"Father!" Belinda's father cried. "What is Greatfall?"
The court director stomped both feet. "The court demands silence!"
The Wise Father said, "It was written, and now it is spoken."
With that, the old man turned and descended from the bench. The remaining court guards fell into their places around him, and escorted him through an inconspicuous door.
The guards on either side of Belinda stoically marched her down the red-carpeted aisle and through the wide wooden doors at the rear of the court. Behind them, the crowd stood still, stunned into inaction by the strange development.
But Belinda's father pushed his way through a tangle of attendees and into the aisle. He ran after the guards.
"Stop!" he yelled. "Where are you going with my daughter? What's happening?"
At the door, he was brought to a halt by three new guards. They formed a line across the doorway, blocking his path. Beyond them, Belinda began to struggle against the men who held her.
Her father pushed against the guards in the doorway, and they pushed back. He pushed harder, and they shoved him forcefully to the floor. He climbed to his feet and leaned on them, helpless to pass, and watched as his daughter was carried away from him.
"Mercy!" he yelled. "Bring back my daughter, please. Please!"
Belinda's mother, still in the audience, turned to someone beside her. "Can you see what's happening? My husband -- is that my husband?"
The two guards escorting Belinda led her to the railing of the great staircase. She struggled, her heart suddenly bright with fear.
"Dad!" she cried out. "What are they--"
The guards arrived at the staircase. They hoisted Belinda into the air by her arms, held her over the staircase opening, and released her into the wide gap between the stairs and the towering concrete pylon.
Belinda's father sagged to his knees, and the terrible wail he uttered came from deep in his belly, and turned his wife's blood cold.
Greatfall was carried out at 5:03 a.m.
• • •
Belinda's panicked screams were heard for nearly twenty stories, and then a horrible, awful clang rang out as her body struck a railing, and her voice went silent. She plummeted through the silo quietly, the only sound that of her clothing flapping against the steep updraft.
There were no crowds gathered at the railing to watch her descent. Most were still asleep when Belinda fell to her death, and woke to the news as it spread through the silo. For days after, the believers moved through their daily routines as if asleep. Most were unable to speak of what had happened. All felt, for the first time, an undeniable fear of the One True.
The seeker who followed Belinda up the Path, three weeks later, was sent on his way with a great feast attended by all he knew. Nobody said a word, but everybody knew that it might be the last time they would see him. None mentioned the awful, almost-black stain at the base of the stairs. None needed to.
That stain would never come out of the concrete, and in the centuries to come, would only deepen and grow darker.
So went the first Greatfall.
There would be many, many more.
# # #
And there you have it -- a quick peek at Greatfall, my entry into Hugh Howey's supremely dark and interesting world of Wool. If you'd like to know when Part 1 is available, join my mailing list so you don't miss out!